El Maestro, a reader of the SF Weekly, Westword's partner paper, recently asked Gustavo Arellano, author of Ask a Mexican and a food editor himself, to explain the difference between a mole and molé, since an "offending column" was placed on the back "of the glorious page that has ¡Ask a Mexican!" Here's Gustavo's response:
On page 25 of the November 12 Calendar section, writer Hiya Swanhuyser wrote about the Mission Cultural Center's "Mole to Die For" event in which participants could taste multiple versions of the legendary Mexican meal. El Maestro thought Swanhuyser misspelled the name of the dish and that gabacho readers would likely think the Cultural Center was offering furry creatures for consumption instead of a complex, multi-layered terrestrial ambrosia. Unfortunately, El Maestro got phonetically punked. Mole and mole are false friends, a grammatical concept referring to words that look the same and might even sound the same but have different definitions. There is no accent on the last letter in the food version of mole--it follows Spanish grammatical rules that require speakers pronounce every letter and stress the second-to-last syllable in words that end with a vowel--to distinguish it from the burrowing animal, so gabacho readers must figure out which mole writers are referring to when they use the term. This false friendship leads to many delightful confusions and is a warning to gabachos that, while many Spanish and English words share roots and sound similar, one shouldn't assume anything about language.
Don't believe me? Try this experiment, guys--next time the Mexican mujer in your life does something embarrassing, tell everyone within earshot she's embarazada. Make sure to wear an athletic cup! Finally, for those of you at home who are nerds like me, the etymologies of the two moles: the Mexican foodstuff comes from the Nahuatl mulli (sauce), and the furry creature probably derives from the Old English molde, signifying soil. -- Gustavo Arellano
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